Jewish World Review August 15, 2001 / 26 Menachem-Av, 5761

Jules Witcover

Jules Witcover
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Consumer Reports

The resurfacing of AlGore -- WITH the newly bearded Al Gore re-entering active politics back home in Tennessee as a tutor for young folks interested in getting involved in the game, that other game - speculating whether he will or won't seek the presidency again - is off and running.

One group of players is saying he blew his chance last year, driving off potential contributors and supporters, and ought to take a shower and find something else to do with his life. This group holds that he needs to discover for himself who he is before trying to sell Al Gore to the country again.

Another group says he got shafted last November in Florida, and thus is justified running again because he won the national popular vote by more than half a million ballots and accumulated more votes than any previous Democratic nominee, winner or loser.

The first group says Gore lost in part because if he didn't exactly run away from his political benefactor, Bill Clinton, he sure treated him during the campaign as if he had leprosy. He kept the president on a short leash, these naysayers hold, while not adequately trumpeting Clinton's accomplishments, choosing instead to run as "my own man."

The second group says internal polls showed Clinton would have hurt more than helped had he campaigned in close, key states, and besides Gore did talk repeatedly about what the Clinton-Gore administration had done in eight years of good times.

Gore himself, however, will decide whether to try again, and for all the crepe-hanging going on within the Democratic Party, he has ample rationale for doing so. He is by far the best known available Democrat, has had the best on-the-job training for the presidency and as a candidate. And he can persuade himself that he was undone not by the voters but by a narrow, conservative majority on the Supreme Court in a bizarre exercise of judicial intervention.

As for the gloomy forecasts that his time has passed, Gore will do well to recall the experience of another vice president who sought to succeed an extremely popular president but lost narrowly. His name was Richard M. Nixon, who took the baton from Dwight D. Eisenhower and dropped it in 1960 in a race in which he lost to John F. Kennedy by a mere three-tenths of one percent of the popular vote.

Nixon, like Gore, was accused by critics in his own party of blowing the election, and he went briefly into hiding. Two years later he sought a safe haven from running what he thought would be a rematch with the popular Kennedy in 1964, by seeking the governorship in California in 1962. But he failed again, giving him a two-election losing streak.

Pronounced politically dead in his famous "last press conference" in which he promised - erroneously, it turned out - that the press wouldn't have him "to kick around anymore," Nixon doggedly resurrected his political fortunes by working diligently for other Republican candidates in 1966-67. Finally, in 1968, he won the White House in another squeaker.

Nixon accomplished the feat when there were at least three other prominent Republican contenders in the picture - Govs. George Romney of Michigan, Nelson Rockefeller of New York and Ronald Reagan of California. As of now, Gore is far ahead in the polls of the few Democrats being mentioned as possible rivals: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who is little known yet around the country; and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Biden, both themselves previous presidential nomination losers; and assorted others of low name recognition.

Gore's comeback chances may depend in large part on whether his 2000 campaign warnings of economic and budgetary disaster under a President George W. Bush come to pass between now and 2004. If so, he can tell the voters that he told them so - that the fat tax cut Bush promised and then achieved would gobble up the surplus built in the Clinton-Gore years, bringing back deficits without saving Social Security and Medicare down the road.

But Gore will have to take care, even if that should happen, not to come off as a know-it-all, a perception that hurt him badly last fall. In other words, he will need more than a new beard to get many voters to see him in a different way next time around.

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07/23/01: Bush's congressional dilemma
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07/11/01: Finessing election reform
07/09/01: Listening to, and watching, Ashcroft
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05/21/01: Messin' with McCain
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05/16/01: The level of public sensibility these days
05/14/01: "I am Al Gore. I used to be the next president of the United States"

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